It’s safe to say that the cozy game genre has come into its own in the last few years. Also known as wholesome games, the emerging genre typically offers a slower story pace and a more relaxed style of gameplay, dropping the fast action found in other genres. More low-key and self-guided games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Harvest Moon, and Spiritfarer have always existed, but they’ve only really established themselves as a separate genre recently. There’s an entire cozy tag on Steam and even an entire industry event, Wholesome Direct, dedicated to showcasing new games annually. A quick search on Google will reveal a number of game developers who have happily taken up the mantle of creating these chill games for players.
But cozy gaming has blossomed beyond just the games themselves, much as the larger video game space has over the last 15 years. Players have begun to take their love for gaming and channel it into other forms, making use of platforms like Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram to create a variety of unique content. Content creators have taken to streaming, video making, and other forms of content such as sharing photos on Instagram to discuss, play, and share their love for the genre.
The community around wholesome games is known to be a welcoming space — in part due to the content creators that have become a staple. From streaming their game playing on Twitch on the regular to sharing news and their personal thoughts on upcoming titles with their followers, these content creators are helping to shape an increasingly accessible and diverse community that was really given a breath of life during a pandemic.
Why cozy games?
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, many turned to games to fill their free time. A lot of creators pinpoint that moment as a sort of a kickoff point for the cozy game movement’s sudden growth over the last three years — and a start to what would soon become a job for many of them. The sudden time spent at home during a stressful period and the laid-back vibes that these games offer inspired the content creators I spoke with to create and talk about the games they love.
For Denise, a content creator whose YouTube channel SeeingStarsGaming focuses on cozy game recommendations, upcoming news, and reviews, the appeal of slower-paced play and enticing themes in these lowkey games was always there – but now there was a more specific movement behind it.
“I’ve always really enjoyed more chill and story-rich experiences even as a kid, but there wasn’t really a label for it at the time until the cozy gaming movement started gaining popularity in 2020,” Denise tells Digital Trends. “Everybody was stuck at home and fell back into old hobbies, including me. I started watching a lot of cozy gaming YouTubers such as A Casual Gamer, Cozy K, and Chonnie which really opened my eyes to a community of people and games that I felt a real kinship with that I couldn’t find anywhere else … I knew that making videos about cozy games felt right for me since I had an unlimited amount of ideas. It was only a matter of making it a reality.”
For a very long time, people who enjoyed games that were more chill or feminine were ostracized.
The height of the pandemic was a prime time for individuals to start creating content about this genre, especially as more and more people were spending time playing games and being online. Twitch viewership as a whole spiked dramatically in early 2020, with over five billion hours being watched between April 2020 and June 2020, according to the Verge. For gamers that wanted to dip their toe into content creation, 2020 was a perfect opportunity; cozy games were taking off and people were hungry for content.
Denise wasn’t alone in getting her start as a content creator during the pandemic. Kat, also known as CozyGamerKat, is a Canadian content creator who found a love for games like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon as a kid only for that love to come back later in life. “Particularly during the pandemic, I’ve really got back into cozy games and it’s like coming home. The simple game mechanics, the beautiful stories — it’s all like a warm hug. It’s been such a comfort during this weird time and I’m happy to find my passion for gaming again,” Kat tells Digital Trends.
Similarly to Denise, Kat credits the larger cozy game movement and the pandemic as part of her start in content creation. “I originally started my Instagram account because I saw a TikTok from Cozy.Games about people who like aesthetic and comfy gaming. It really appealed to me and I wanted to find like-minded and fellow aesthetic game lovers,” Kat said. “I never expected it to turn into a career by any means, but I’ve made some of my best friends for life through this space.”
While the community and genre existed well before 2020, it’s safe to say that the pandemic had a lasting impact on the genre and the content creators who have since found a new trajectory for their work. They’re creating content for an audience that falls outside of the usual gaming space and one that is very welcoming to all manner of gamers.
Content creation in the cozy game space
Cozy game content creators can be found on just about any kind of platform, with some of the most popular being TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, and Instagram. The content they’re creating ranges from written content to photos, videos, and streaming live. But just as the genre as a whole has opened up new spaces for gamers, creators are also taking the chance to create unique content that disrupts the typical idea of what a wholesome game might be.
“I like to try and subvert expectations a lot. I think people assume because I’m in the cozy gaming space that I’ll be kind of shy and quiet, that I might talk softly and be kind of aesthetically focused, etc. But I really like to challenge myself — I play horror games, I play action RPGs — my main slogan is that ‘I’m on a mission to make any game cozy’,” Kat told Digital Trends. “Really the idea behind all of this is that I want to showcase that no game is made for just one type of gamer.”
Kat’s subversion of expectations in what a game can be fits right in with the overall genre and community which truly leans into accessibility in gaming. There’s a unique chance to show that all games have the capability to be accessible to gamers, whether they’re new to games as a whole or new to a certain genre or playstyle. A game doesn’t necessarily have to be something like Ooblets or Disney Dreamlight Valley to fall under the moniker of cozy gaming.
For creators, finding consistency in the content they’re creating, whether that be a regular streaming schedule, dedicated editing time to their videos, or determining what type of content they’re working on currently, is a key part of their work as well — just as much as actually playing games can be.
“Creating consistent cozy gaming content was and still is a huge learning curve for me, especially with the challenge of balancing it with work,” Denise says. “Since the rise of cozy gaming, there has been an increasing number of cozy games that are continuously released month after month. It can be pretty difficult to stay on top of it and push out content in a timely manner for every game. I don’t have a lot of free time so I have to be very conscious of how I spend it and what kind of games I play.”
“Ironically, as a cozy gaming content creator most of my time is spent editing and planning videos more than I actually play games.”
As Denise notes, it’s a little ironic that such a relaxing genre can quickly turn into very real, hard work for creators. Content creation from the outside may seem quick and easy to the viewers, but there’s more to it than just sitting down to play the latest game that you’re interested in. Creators like Denise and Kat are actively keeping up with industry news, be that through research, following game development, and other things like interviews and industry events. Other steps of the creation process that go into their work include writing scripts, drafting graphics, filming, editing, and writing, depending on what kind of content they’re currently working on.
And that’s not even factoring in the time that they devote to playing the games they’re talking about with the express purpose of being able to discuss them afterward or live on stream.
A diverse space for creators and players alike
While content creators continue to make unique content for the genre, it’s easy to see why the genre has quickly become known as an accessible and inclusive space. Writing for Wireframe, Helen Johnson notes that one of the fundamental indicators of a cozy game is that “they tend to be more inclusive in terms of representing gender, sexual identity, race, and disability” through their gameplay, characters, and stories. That inclusivity is also reflected in the community itself. Just a quick look through the top videos for “cozy games” on TikTok and YouTube shows that content creators don’t only fit into the stereotypical idea of what a gamer is.
Cozy games have helped open up a space for diverse gamers and creators alike, allowing them to really find a foothold for themselves where they otherwise may have felt excluded. “I feel like for a very long time, people who enjoyed games that were more chill or feminine were ostracized. A lot of these people weren’t considered real gamers, so I love that we now have our own space and tribe where we can enjoy cozy games without any shame,” Denise says.
For content creators, the growth and inclusiveness of their chosen genre certainly make the future seem especially bright — with more developers interested in creating cozy games and new content creators getting their own start.
“I think the space in the industry will only continue to grow. We haven’t even really cracked 1 million followers on the biggest accounts in the space, but already you can see big sponsors and brands turning their eyes to this creator space,” Kat said. “I think it’s a sign that we are going to continue to see more diverse representation in gaming as cozy game creators continue to find their space in it, and I can’t wait to see it.”
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.